The art of process reinvention at Thomas Cook

Thomas Cook

Opportunities can be uncovered on the road less traveled—both literally and figuratively. We see this firsthand at Thomas Cook, as abrupt fluctuations in travel demand add layers of unpredictability to business strategies and planning. Accounting for unforeseen changes in the market means that we need to consider all of our resources for quick, creative solutions.

For example, political unrest and the resulting security issues can wreak havoc on a country’s travel and hospitality industries. An incident in Tunisia in 2015 caused travel to the country to come to a halt and when operators began to refocus travel to the country, they faced challenges with minimal hotel availability.

As an international travel company offering more than airline operations, Thomas Cook had already established strong partnerships with many hotels in this region. These partnerships—which span across our airline operations, vacation packages, currency exchange, and travel service offices—are key to capitalizing on challenging areas, as well as emerging countries with steady growth, such as Egypt and Turkey.

To be effective as a global organization, our business needs to be strategic and our processes need to be agile. We have to be able to react nimbly to unexpected events and we need planning technology that can help us do so. This led our organization to Anaplan’s Connected Planning platform and how we could use it across our business to reinvent, collaborate, and harmonize processes for more consistent results and better decisions.

Similar to any journey, ours was not without a few lessons learned along the way. Here are three key lessons we learned through reinventing our business processes and moving them to Anaplan.

Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know

Building your first planning model will inevitably be an important learning experience. For us, it was an opportunity to understand how to best use Anaplan’s platform. After building our first model and maintaining it for around six months, we realized there were even more ways to make it more efficient for us. We first tinkered around the edges as much as we could, but eventually realized that we’d need to start over from scratch if we wanted to make substantial improvements.

Over the next two months, a few of us improved data integration within the model, customized different dashboards, and rebuilt our model from the ground up (while running the old model in parallel) to help our forecasting team achieve better outcomes.

In our previous model, there could be confusion around which numbers should be entered and where—which occasionally resulted in unexpected outcomes. Our new model streamlined the process flow, so numbers only needed to be entered once. As a result of such improvements, we not only sharpened our skillset by expanding our knowledge and capabilities but created a model that does more than the old one and requires less space.

Once you’re buckled in, get ready to soar to new heights

After our first planning model was just right, our focus could then turn to iterating upon and improving some related processes. We used the second phase of implementation to really improve our job performance, such as using different models to connect with other areas of the business and extract the best answers.

For example, we used to forecast holiday customers and revenue in one set of spreadsheets and then have completely separate—but linked—spreadsheets that would forecast products such as insurance and other non-holiday ancillaries. This process relied on our spreadsheets linking correctly and that communication between our team members was flowing correctly. In Anaplan, this is all modelled at once, instantly.

Achieving these goals empowered us to move from a place of process improvement—simply speeding up processes—to working with the entire business to understand forecast drivers. As a result, we enabled teams outside of finance to better understand the forecast. This level of visibility and transparency helped us build a more collaborative culture within our organization.

In the end, your data quality always matters

The data we use in Anaplan is not any different than the data we had used in the spreadsheets it replaced. Yes, the formats and views might look different but it’s the very same data. That’s actually a good thing, because regardless of your technologies or tools, if you don’t have a solid data structure to begin with, it’s likely going to be challenging to accomplish any real process improvements in your planning.

Get the important groundwork going now: determine the data you want to use, understand if it is already in the right structure or not, and consider how to efficiently integrate it with new technology. These are key considerations you should evaluate before starting any journey.

A better way of working

Implementing new technology can be a significant undertaking, but it can also function as a catalyst for reinventing business processes. By focusing on better understanding of different unexplored areas throughout implementation and then further iterating upon them, we not only reinvented our processes, but more importantly, we made our work easier to do.

For me, Anaplan simply provided Thomas Cook with a better way of working. We’ve been able to improve and accelerate our processes (saving several days of drudgework every month) and connect teams that weren’t previously able to collaborate in meaningful ways.

The sheer power of the platform has been key. Having all of our processes and data—once siloed and piecemeal—in one platform has been transformative and the seamless interaction between the models is, indeed, a very powerful thing.

How did Anaplan save Thomas Cook six days’ work?

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